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Ministry of Labor survey reveals the persistence of cultural sexism

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A Ministry of Labor (MOL) survey earlier this month revealed that women had to work two months more than men last year to receive the same amount of pay, sparking nationwide debates on what some have called the “impoverishment of women” phenomenon and an indicator of cultural sexism.

The findings of the Equal Pay survey published late February concluded that women had to work an extra 59 days to break even with the annual salary of men last year. Though the finding indicates a 2-day decrease compared to the year before, critics assert that the small amount of progress is still futile to alleviate the impoverishment of women. The study has been held by some as a marker of persistent sexism in Taiwanese culture.

According to Professor Chen Chao-Ju (陳昭如) of National Taiwan University College of Law, the cause of the phenomenon is a complex combination of sexist values that, regrettably, are still alive to a certain extent in Taiwan, with the biggest reason being the expectations instilled within and toward working women.

Aside from the obvious unequal pay still observed in various countries worldwide, the issue of maternal leave is a deciding factor that makes employers pay women less.

The consensus of MOL also showed that the average salary per hour for women is 83.9 percent of the average hourly pay for men. The result of unequal policies also extends to women's pension funds, directly affecting the retirement plans of the population.

Other factors contributing to the phenomenon include education and the right of inheritance. Women in Taiwan are more prone to debt resulting from a lack of resources. The older Taiwanese generations have been known to reserve money to send sons on to higher education. Women are then not only left to take out loans but are also discouraged to receive more advanced educational degrees than men.

Women are also given less chance to inherit funds and estates compared to men, forcing most to retain a sufficient amount of savings with no extra help. The Ministry of Finance has revealed that as of 2012, the difference in percentage of forfeiting an inheritance is 63.8 percent in women versus 32.6 percent in men, whereas the declaration of inheritance tax applies to 32.6 percent of women and 67.4 percent of men.

The numbers directly reflect the conflict between tradition and democratic law, said Chen. Although the law dictates gender equality in the right of inheritance, women are more likely to forfeit their rights “voluntarily” under pressure from their parents, allowing their male siblings to inherit the women's share.

Although gender equality amendments have been inserted into the constitution, said Chen, like it or not, the traditional ways still dictate the majority of Taiwanese life. Laws can be written into a country's constitution, but there will never be a guarantee that it will be practiced amongst citizens, especially when inequality is consensual. The only way to truly eradicate sexism in Taiwan, said Chen, is to begin gender equality education at a young age.

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